Living Collection

The Living Collection is central to our mission to inspire, inform and educate the public and the scientific community about California's native flora. While we strive to grow the largest sample of California native plants possible, we focus on the long-lived perennial plant life of Southern California and Baja.

Living Collection Policy


Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Living Collection Database

Every year hundreds of plants become new additions to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Living Collection database. Detailed records are kept on where the plants were collected, how they were propagated, when they were planted out and how they are doing. The Living Collection database includes information on where plants can be found on the grounds map.

Living Collection DatabaseLiving Collection

Grounds Map

We are a member of the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) Multi-Institutional Oak Collection.  This collaborative venture composed of 20 botanic gardens from across North America is dedicated to preserving and displaying the oaks of the world. For our part, we are working to include specimens of every oak native to California in our collection.

Living collections of plants can serve several roles in an integrated, ex-situ (offsite) conservation plan. Living collections are well suited to short- or medium-term housing for plants destined for reintroduction, longer term retention of critically endangered plants and bulking up collections for reintroduction or long-term seed storage. The Living Collection at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden fills all three of these roles, frequently in collaboration with other botanic gardens, local government and non-governmental conservation agencies. The Living Collections are a valuable research and educational collection that promotes the study of our native plants and facilitates the communication of the importance of plant conservation

The field record form and an example of a completed form is available on our Download Forms page.

Arctostaphylos hookeri ssp. franciscana, Hooker’s manzanita, is not only critically endangered, it is extinct in the wild. Rancho Santa Ana holds four accessions of A. hookeri ssp. franciscana, ensuring that this plant is not lost and preserving this material for potential reintroduction. Cuttings of all accessions have been sent to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to be grown on and hand pollinated for the Millenium Seed Bank. Similar controlled pollinations will also contribute to our seed bank.

While not extinct in the wild, Cercocarpus traskiae, Catalina mountain-mahogany, is as close as a plant can come with only seven individuals remaining in a single valley on Catalina Island. Rancho Santa Ana holds vegetatively propagated representatives of all seven individuals, as well as an eighth cultivated plant determined to be genetically different from the wild plants by testing performed here at the garden. Maintaining the complete set of known individuals provides the greatest hope for allowing this species to continue on in the wild by keeping the maximum number of management options open.

It should be stressed that the most important conservation work must be preservation of plant populations in the wild (in-situ). Living collections can support in-situ conservation through ex-situ projects like those described here and elsewhere.

Self-guided interpretive brochures are available at the California Garden Shop and enable visitors to fully enjoy the three distinct areas of the Garden: Indian Hill Mesa, the East Alluvial Gardens and the Plant Communities.


Floristic Province

In nature, the distribution of plants rarely coincides with political boundaries, but rather is determined by the interaction of climate, geology and geography. A regional association of plants that share these growing conditions is called a floristic province. Of the 13 North American floristic provinces, four occur in California: Californian, Vancouverian, Sonoran and Great Basin.


Californian is defined by its Mediterranean climate. It is the smallest floristic province in North America, but has the greatest diversity of plants north of Mexico. It includes such characteristic vegetation as chaparral, coastal sage scrub, oak woodland and grassland. These plants exhibit classic adaptations to California’s hot dry summers and cool wet winters: leaves that are small and leathery, light-colored or drought-deciduous.


Vancouverian encompasses the state’s major forests. The California portion of this province is an extension of the Pacific Northwest rainforests and includes mixed evergreen and coniferous forests of pines, madrones and coast and sierran redwoods.


Sonoran is characterized by giant cacti (eg. saguaro) and desert scrub vegetation. The state of California includes only the northwestern edge of this extensive desert province. Plant communities in this area include Joshua tree woodland, California fan palm oasis and creosote bush scrub.


Great Basin is dominated by the vastness of sagebrush scrub vegetation - the sagebrush ocean. The majority of this high-elevation desert lies to the east of California in the rain shadow of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges.